I am slowly transcribing the long-hand diary entries from my midlife gap-year and turning them into blog posts. I’ve reached the mornign of the 106th day as I awake in a municipal camping ground in Poix-de-Picardie, France.
Monday 7 September
In the night I have pulled on my jumper, my beanie. But once the extra layers were on my beloved sleeping bag did the rest of the job well and I sleep into the morning.
At 8:00 I walk through the quiet the village of Poix-de-Picardie to the boulangerie. The day is sunny but very cool. I hope the sunshine will last and bring warmth later.
Today’s ride is less than 40km through hilly countryside and villages.
I realise that a big part of my problem with the hills of Wales were the hedges. Not being able to see the landscape, only hedges and road, was dispiriting. Here I can see the climb coming and I can appreciate the view when I get to the top. It’s much nicer.
I pass a wind farm. The turbines are majestic and beautiful. Their form melds something soft in the shape of the blades, into everything we were led to hope for in futuristic design.
Then there is a chateau, looking every inch a French chateau, and an ancient church with a clock keeping perfect time.
I arrive at the Amiens Hostel (YHA) and receive a most unfriendly welcome.
I wheel my bicycle in and a bloke jumps from the office to say, “You can’t have a bike in the building – outside!” He doesn’t say, “I’m sorry but ..” or “please park outside”. Just: NON! I ignore him – well, I say I’m checking in, then it will go to storage, it’s not doing any harm for five minutes. You’d have thought I was bringing in a rabid dog.
Then I must pay .25 tax in cash. Why they can’t include that on-line is a mystery.
He checks me in, sort of, but I have to wait until 4:00 pm to properly check in. Then he leads me to the bicycle storage which is two buildings away – thanks, mate, for (not) suggesting I take my bags off before going over there. And, thanks again for (not) offering to help carry any of them back.
I had been thinking of doing Villers-Bretonneux, THE Australian war memorial in France, as a day-trip tomorrow, then coming back for a second night here, but, um, no. I’ll see what I see of Amiens tonight. Enjoy my included breakfast and be on the road by mid-morning.
I’ve showered and snacked and am now less irritated.
Hostels in France are a bit weird. Firstly, there are only YHAs – the hostels which are part of the official international network and have been around forever. I presume it is a legal thing – that independent operators aren’t allowed to set them up. This is the second one I’ve stayed at – the first was in Cherbourg. That one was a little weird too, but this one feels especially institutional, like a university dorm – at the beginning of term when everyone is new.
The other guests, as far as I’ve seen, don’t seem like traditional hostel-staying travellers either. I think they may be students or recently arrived immigrants. Everyone I’ve seen, bar one couple, is either of Middle-Eastern or African heritage – you just don’t see a lot of people from those areas in hostels generally. There are also more than the usual number of children here. While people aren’t unfriendly, nor are they friendly – no one has said hello, for instance, but I’ve had a few nods.
I walk into the city centre, and it’s nice enough. There seems to be a lot of civic stuff going on like pedestrian malls, and city bikes. They have an ice hockey team – I see an advertisement. I check out a restaurant suggested by Lonely Planet, but it looks … like a place I don’t want to dine alone. I go to a Lebanese place instead, which is okay – but not very good – my belly is grumbling a bit now.
I walk past the impressive cathedral. As I first entered the outskirts of Amiens I crossed a bridge and from there I could see it – the cathedral. Back when it was built it must have been an awe-inspiring thing. But I can’t help but wonder what else humankind might have done with all that money and energy other than pouring into religion and symbols of power.
Tuesday 8 September
So, yes, I decided to stay a second night after all – I’ve ridden five days in a run. On that pattern, I’ll ride five, take off one, three times and arrive in Zurich.
At breakfast I decided there are people staying who are working or attending a conference or something. So, a different mix of guests but not totally bizarre.
I visit the Amiens Cathedral – lovely and insane. Huge, soaring, obviously awe inspiring. I mean, it is today – I tried to imagine being a peasant bringing goods to market, or some provincial person, coming into Amiens in 1250. To see that building when you’ve left a stone and mud hut would blow your mind.
The sports store didn’t have either the tights or the ear covers I was hoping for.
But I have just had an apricot jam crepe and a coffee.
Even though my belly still a little unsure after that Lebanese food.
The residential area around the hostel reminds me of Baltimore. There are row houses, basically it is the row houses which reminded me of Baltimore.
Walking around town, sometimes I do wonder ‘what am I doing here?’ I mean the Amiens Cathedral is interesting but, whatever. I try to remind myself that I’m here for the things that are happening to my soul, unconsciously, because I’m here. I am different for being here, for being here alone, for just dealing with myself and my progress.
But it really is an act of trust, sometimes, that that is actually happening.